I frequently have to remind myself that there was a time when any exotic-sounding, technique-heavy recipe would fill me with terror. Cook the pasta until al dente? How will I know when it’s al dente? Toast the garlic until golden brown? What’s golden brown? How’s that different from brown brown?
And by facing my fears head on, tackling recipe after recipe, the fear is gone and now I love to cook. But I remind myself of my old fears because I imagine there are many among you who experience similar fears: “Me? Make spaghetti carbonara? Oh no, I couldn’t. Me? Little old me?”
But spaghetti carbonara is a good recipe for beginners because the payoff is huge and the techniques required are basic and quickly learnable. Here, let me prove it.
To make spaghetti carbonara, you will need:
– a box of dry spaghetti (1 lb)
– pancetta or thick bacon, but preferably pancetta (if you can’t find either, regular bacon will work too)
– two raw eggs
– freshly grated parmesan (and lots of it!)
– freshly ground pepper
– four whole cloves of garlic
– white wine (Pinot Grigio works well; you can drink it with the dinner later)
– chopped parsley
1. Get a pot of water boiling. I use a dutch oven because it’s wide and holds the spaghetti neatly.
2. Cut the bacon/pancetta into cubes. (How much bacon/pancetta? A few strips of bacon—eyeball it. In a recipe like this, the more bacon the better… but don’t overdo it.)
3. Add the cubes to a non-stick skillet with some olive oil and the garlic cloves. Turn on the heat (about medium-low, not too hot) and wait for the sizzle, as it sizzles shake the pan around and cook until the garlic is golden brown (golden brown IS different from brown brown; look for hints of gold) and then remove the garlic–or, if the bacon finishes at the same time as the garlic you can keep the garlic in there. Keep cooking the bacon/pancetta until it’s crispy and it’s released lots of its fat. When you taste a cube and it’s delicious, add a glass of white wine. The wine will bubble up but then it’ll calm down and let it bubble away for a little bit until it reduces and you have a nice winey, bacony sauce. Smell it, you’ll love it.
4. Is your water boiling? Add lots of salt and then add the box of spaghetti. Stir it around a bit so it doesn’t stick.
5. Now, in a big bowl crack two eggs. Grate in a TON of Parmesan cheese–at least one cup. Grind black pepper over it all and then stir it together with a fork.
6. Your preparations are done! Now the fun part.
7. After six or seven minutes of boiling, taste a strand of spaghetti. I’m a wimp, so I use tongs to remove a strand of spaghetti, take it to the sink, run cold water over it and then taste. How is it? Undercooked? Just cooked enough? You want it to be al dente–which means to the tooth. You want to feel the bite but you don’t want it to be raw. Keep tasting and checking and you’ll know: when the spaghetti tastes like how you’d want spaghetti to taste–resilient and snappy, not spongy or wormy–add it to the bowl with the eggs and cheese and black pepper.
8. Stir, stir, stir! The heat from the spaghetti is cooking those eggs but you don’t want those eggs to scramble. So keep stirring, you fool. STIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!
9. Now add that winey bacon mixture and stir again.
10. Finally, and I think this touch is essential, chop some parsley and add lots of parsley to the bowl and stir one last time. Now grate more cheese on top, grind some pepper, and you are done.
Aren’t you proud? Look at this amazing dinner you just made. Pour yourself a glass of wine and go pig out in front of the TV. Or share it with your friends, your parents, your domestic partners, your children. Aren’t they proud too?
Cooking can be tiresome, cooking can be frustrating, but when there’s a reward like this–when you taste your own creation–it’s all worthwhile. So oooh and ahhh and enjoy with my blessing. Keep facing your fears and you’ll be eating like this forever and ever more.